I was born and raised in the midwest. My family has deep midwestern roots. I grew up on midwestern type food. I consider midwestern food to be “farm table” food, like roasts, late summer sweet corn, casseroles, and fresh vegetables (canned all winter long). Wait…was that my moms 70′s housewife menu or midwest fare? No idea, but it was all I knew! So when I moved to the southeastern part of the country, I had a lot to learn about regional foods!
Barbecue in North Carolina is a regional food that I knew nothing about prior to moving to North Carolina. But there’s more. Evidently it’s not simply “North Carolina” barbecue. There is western North Carolina barbecue and eastern North Carolina barebecue. Wow! So much to learn!
Barbecue sauces and techniques vary in the great state of North Carolina. There is a red sauce, much like the barbecue sauce that I grew up with, resembling ketchup. Then there is a vinegar based sauce, somewhat translucent, that is completely new to me. Growing up, the only time I even had barbecue sauce was when it was slathered on baked chicken or in a “sloppy joe”. And it was always commercial bottled sauce. So clearly my knowledge and experience was somewhat limited. But that has certainly changed!
In North Carolina, the barbecue that I have become familiar with and started cooking is pulled pork. So I started at the beginning: the cut of meat to use. From my research, experimentation, and dining pleasure, I discovered that I needed to get a pork butt, with a six to eight pound butt being sufficient for my purposes. As a true foodie, I have jumped on this bandwagon big time! Something that starts out with a big butt is bound to be loads of fun!
Now that I had my butt, I was ready for the next step…giving it a good butt rub! And that is what I did. I love to cook from scratch, and I know enough about seasonings that I was able to get a solid dry rub together. I used cayenne pepper, season salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, dry mustard, sugar, and a surprise ingredient! I used a dash of instant coffee granules. But don’t tell! It’s my secret!
Another secret…I rub my butt the night before, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and toss it in the fridge. The next day, 6 or so hours before I want to serve it, I unwrap the butt, set it in my big black cast iron skillet and put it into a 300 degree oven. I have also done the butt in my slow cooker, but like the oven for a better texture. The grill is the best option though! Afte, I simply use 2 forks to pull the meat apart, put it on a plate, and stand back! Add baked beans, some crisp slaw, soft sandwich buns, and it’s barbecue time. Well, at least my novice level type! Make it and they will come!
Oh yeah…back to the barbeque sauce. I am now a huge fan of the vinegar based barbecue sauce. I have played with the following ingredient combinations to make my vinegar sauce: vinegar, mustard, ketchup, sugar, garlic, and some red pepper flakes. So delish! I like my barbecue sandwich wet and sloppy, so I drench it in the vinegar sauce, toss slaw onto my sandwich, and don’t bother with a napkin till the end.
I would like to “hog” credit for developing these recipes and techniques, but truth be told I have had my wonderful companion Denis (thankfully a fellow foodie) in the kitchen too, contributing, tasting, and adding. Credit also goes to both of our families, parents and kids alike, for offering up that coveted closed eye “moaning moment” when eating our barbecue. The “food moan”, along with mouth stuffed muffled dinner conversation, is a positive sign. At this point, I won’t attempt to catapult myself to any sort of barbecue aficionado status. But happily am on the right road.
Post Script: A word to the singles out there. This is not a good 1st date meal. Like s’mores or ribs, barbecue just doesn’t work when trying to look cute. 1st date cute. Nope! Hold out a bit for this pulled pork barbecue. This is a flat out down and dirty, sloppy, finger licking meal. Know your dining companions before attempting this!